We have been in Xela for a little over two weeks now and it has been rather interesting to meet and chat with the Guatemalans. They are a polite, friendly and hard-working people who are more than ready to explain their history or discuss politics if you ask. One thing that I have noticed in particular is that they have time for you, in fact, they will make time for you, and we found that they really do want to help you … no strings attached. If you need directions, a recommendation or anything else they are more than willing to help you out (which really helps since the highways don’t have signs).
We arrived late last Sunday night to our Spanish school and were dropped off at our homestay house. It would be a bit of an understatement to say we were a bit surprised at our new surroundings. It has made me appreciate how lucky we are at home and I suppose that as you get older (Ack!) your standards change a bit. What we were able to handle at 21 has changed a little bit. Things that seem to be completely standard in Xela are a lack of hot water and power outages at all times of the week. Somehow (we really cannot figure it out) water is heated in the shower in this crazy contraption:
All things considered I do think Guatemala is on its way to becoming a stable nation. After a horrible civil war from 1960 – 1996, where over 200, 000 Guatemalans were killed, a million left homeless and thousands just disappeared, Guatemalans are trying very hard to change the world’s view about themselves and their nation. They are making the effort to move away from the violence, which swallowed up the country for much too long. My Spanish teacher told me yesterday that at the age of 10 he had watched two televised executions, one by firing squad and the other by lethal injection. Stunned I asked him if he thought that seeing this type of violence as a child had any long term affects, he shrugged and replied, “Yes, but everyone would tune in to see them.” This only solidified that fact that those of us in the western world cannot really understand the atrocities these people, and many others, have been exposed to in the past century.
All of this aside, things do seem to be looking up here. Education and literacy are extremely important and many young people are expecting to attend university to find work. The indigenous people are much more integrated into society that those of Mexico and there are serious discrimination laws in effect. Should you ask anyone in Guatemala what group they belong to the only response you will get is,” Soy Guatemalteco.” (I am Guatemalan).
Of course, there are still lots of violent activities and child kidnapping seems to be huge issue here (we watched an anti violence and kidnapping protest in the main square). And everyone, both tourist, ex-pat and national alike will tell you to avoid Guatemala City. From what we have heard it sounds extremely dangerous.
On the lighter side we visited Fuentes Georginas, beautiful hot springs, about 35 minutes outside of Xela. After a very cold week both inside the classroom and at our home stay we were overjoyed to jump into the scalding waters and warm up. Interestingly enough most of the visitors to the springs were cold-looking tourists.
We have a couple more weeks of one-on-one Spanish at ICA for 5 hours a day. And when we are not conjugating verbs we are planning to hunt down San Simon, a famous Mayan hero, check out a finca (coffee plantation) and take a trip to the beautiful Lago Atitlan.